On 22 August 1485 the War of the Roses reached a bloody climax at Bosworth Field. Here, Richard III, England’s most controversial king, defended his crown against the Lancastrian champion, Henry Tudor.
The thirty-year long Wars of the Roses was a dynastic struggle between rival branches of the ruling royal family of England, the Plantagenet. These two Houses, cadet branches of the Plantagenet, were descended from sons of the prolific Edward III: the House of York, whose symbol was the white rose, and the House of Lancaster, represented by the red.
After the Yorkist victory at the Battle of Tewkesbury in 1461 and the subsequent execution of the Lancastrian king, Henry VI, the war seemed to have come to close. The Yorkist leader Edward IV was firmly in command of his kingdom; and would rule undisturbed till his death in 1483. However, Edward left as heir his son Edward, not yet thirteen years old. His younger brother, Richard of Gloucester was named as guardian for the young prince and Lord Protector of the Realm.
Throughout his brother’s reign (and the struggle for Yorkist victory that established it) Richard of Gloucester had always been the capable, trusted, and loyal lieutenant. As Warden of the North he had proven himself an able captain; successfully campaigning against the Scots, temporarily occupying Edinburgh and capturing the mighty fortress of Berwick in 1482. But as Lord Protector for his young nephew, King Edward V, Richard quickly found his authority challenged by his brother’s widow, the Queen Mother Elizabeth Woodville and her ambitious family.
In the brief struggle for power that followed, Richard outmaneuvered the Woodvilles and took custody of both the young king-to-be and his brother, Prince Richard. The two princes were lodged in the Tower of London; then still used as a royal residence as well as a prison for the most important of prisoners. Over the next month, the boys coronation was postponed; while rumors were circulated that the marriage of Edward IV to Elisabeth Woodville had been illegal. The prince was ultimately disinherited, and on 25 June, an assembly of Lords and Commons declared Richard to be the legitimate king; later confirmed by act of parliament.
Thus began the reign of Richard III, perhaps England’s most controversial king……
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